Speedrunning is a contest of the fastest completion of video games, competing for speed and not score. Most of the popular games to speedrun are games from the 8-bit era, such as Super Mario Bros. Using bugs and glitches found on the original game is considered to be fair play. Often several glitches are used to skip parts of the games and allow them to be completed faster. Often speedrunners put a significant amount of time into practicing the tricks necessary to shave seconds, darbian jokingly remarks “The sacrifices one must make to be good at bros…”
Meet Kosmicd12. He speedruns Mario games as a hobby, and at several points in time has contended for the world record for the fastest completion of Super Mario Bros 1. Now finally he has seen his lucky break. In the span of 2017-2018, he has taken the world record in any% (category name for the fastest completion of the game), warpless (fastest completion of the game without using warp zones to skip worlds), and minus world (where you use a warp zone loading glitch to go to a world that isn’t supposed to exist and trick the game into thinking you beat it). Several times he has come close to the record or even tied it, but 2/16/18, when he set this record, is the first time he has held untied world records for a significant period of time, let alone in all the categories.
So what makes this run so impressive, what makes it so extraordinarily hard to beat?
Before we analyze his any% world record, it must be explained how time is saved and lost in Mario Bros 1. The game basically checks to see if you’ve finished a level, and reached the castle behind the flagpole, every 21 frames. You can think about the loading of the next level as a bus that arrives every 21 frames (0.35 seconds), and the castle at the end as a bus stop. Every time a new “bus” arrives, it’s called a framerule. So the fastest way to play through the game is to get to the final level on the fastest framerule you can. Framerules don’t apply on the final level cause the timer ends when you grab the axe to finish the game. His new any% record is extraordinarily solid, a 4:56.462. The tricks performed in that run are incredibly difficult to string together, and the framerules that can still be saved are few and are all extremely hard.
The history of this record is very long, so I will start with the first sub 5 minute speedrun by andrewg1990, a 4:59.400. In 1-1, 1-2, and 4-1, he plays really optimally and grabs the top of the flagpoles so that Mario doesn’t bump on the flagpole block. In 4-2, he backwards jumps into a series of objects to move mario slightly further to the right of the screen. This sets up a glitch known as a wrong warp. Basically, Super Mario can only load one “warp” at a time, whether that be the vine to the secret exit, or the pipe to the coin cash. If you trick it into loading warp 1 and enter warp 2, than it will act as if you entered warp 1. By moving Mario about 24-30 pixels to the right, you can enter the pipe that goes to a coin cash, but the only warp loaded is the vine to the warp zone. This allows you to enter the pipe and go to the warp zone, skipping breaking a bunch of invisible blocks and skipping a cutscene of mario climbing up a vine. This saves about 4 seconds, and is crucial to having a fast run. In 8-1 he plays through the level optimally but gets a timeloss of 1 framerule due to something known as “bad judges”. In 8-1, you make the optimal framerule by so little, that if your subpixel positions are bad, you will not make the framerule. You can guarantee that your subpixel positions are good by hitting the first pixel of the star block, but this is frame perfect and unreliable. In 8-2, he played through the level as normally, and in 8-3, he waited at the flagpole to prevent himself from getting fireworks which would lose him significant time. And in 8-4, the final castle, he executed all the glitches (walljump, wrong warp, ect) relatively fast and then jumped through the badly programmed hitboxes of bowsers hammers, and grabbed the axe, finishing the game in just under 5 minutes. At this time, andrewg1990 was on top of the speedrunning world, and nobody could touch his time, not even close.
Eventually though, small improvements were found that could take the record much lower. For example, in 8-1, they figured out how to avoid getting bad judges, and save the framerule, and in 4-2 you could only do 2 bumps, and move mario 20 pixels to the right, which saves a framerule, known as fast 4-2. The only problem was that the framerule save in 4-2 is so extraordinarily hard that it is basically impossible to do consistently.
Andrewg, the best mario player at the time, was able to do it 1/20 times he tried, and that was on a good day. Despite this, the sheer difficulty of these tricks wasn’t going to stop him, and he continued, going for every time save he could get, and he was able to bring the time over a second faster, to a mid 4:58. He soon realized, that if he played as well as he had ever done in every level, he would get a high 4:57. He began relentlessly grinding for this time, playing the game extremely often.
Eventually though, something new was discovered. If you used a bullet bill to clip into the flagpole in 8-2, you could grab the flagpole and clip to the front of the block at the bottom of the flagpole. Because after the flagpole grab, Mario runs into the block at the bottom of the flagpole, the game thinks he’s already entered the castle. If done well, this trick, known as bullet bill glitch, saves 2 framerules. Andrewg decided it was already hard enough for him to get fast 4-2 in a run, let alone do bullet bill glitchin the same run: a frame perfect glitch late in the run that has a ½ chance of not working even if you perform it perfectly. He slowly got closer and closer, and eventually lowered his time to a 4:58.092. He was so close to the legendary 4:57, but he was starting to get tired, playing the game less, and losing the motivation to beat his world record. He was just too good, and nobody could top him.
But then, on June 6th 2014, a German player under the username i_o_l broke through, and toppled andrewgs long reigning dominance over Mario Bros. He went for everything andrewg did, except fast 4-2. However, he went for bullet bill glitch, which gave him a full framerule advantage over andrewg. He got a 4:57.693, which was a new world record by a considerable margin, and showed people how much lower the game could go. The new record showed people that the speedrun was beatable, and this inspired some notably skilled players, such as american players under the usernames darbian and you guessed it, kosmic, to challenge the record and push it even lower.
Darbian was going for the same strategies as i_o_l. On May 5, 2015, he got a 4:57.709, and at this point it was obvious that he had the skill to take the world record from i_o_l. And sure enough, just 5 days later, he got a 4:57.627, world record by only frames, but still a world record. After this, he began pushing the record lower and lower, and he eventually brought the world record down to a 4:57.244, and with the current strats known to be humanly doable, that was thought to be basically unbeatable. Not only did he get good judges, fast 4-2, and bullet bill glitch, but he did 8-4 faster than he’s ever done in a run before by using a frame perfect fast acceleration glitch.
At this point, nobody expected the record ever to go lower, but then soon, something new was discovered. Real time speedruns are done playing the game as one would normally, at regular fps, with button presses from the controller used. But there are certain things that are theoretically possible, but cannot be done by a human. These things are showcased and done in TAS (tool assisted speedruns), where a TASer goes in an emulator, and can dictate the buttons pressed on every frame to create flawless gameplay. In the current TAS of the game, it saves a framerule in most of the levels over the 4:57.244. So speedrunners started looking into how they could use the strategies the TAS does, to finally beat this seemingly perfect world record. The trick that seemed the most viable was a trick known as flagpole glitch. This is where mario clips into the base of the flagpole, and grabs the pole, using the hitbox of the flagpole block to cancel the animation of the flag coming down. This can be used to save a framerule in 1-1, and 4-1. The early setups for flagpole glitch were extremely hard and inconsistent, and were written off as a strategy that wasn’t realistic to do in a run. But then, a glitchhunter known as sockfolder came along, and developed a setup to do flagpole glitch reasonably consistently. It was still hard, but it’s the only timesave left in the run.
Kosmic began going for 1 flagpole glitch on 1-1 and than bullet bill glitch, so that a really good 8-4 would get him the record. Darbian was going for 2 flagpole glitches, 1 on 1-1, and 1 on 4-1, and bullet bill glitch so that if he gets any reasonably good 8-4 it will be world record. On October 3rd 2016, Kosmic got a 4:57.144, proving that the game can still go lower. Less than a week later though, Darbian had a run going, got both flagpole glitches, and got a 4:56.878, a time long thought to be humanly impossible. After this, it seemed like the category had become stale yet again. The only way for somebody to really be able to beat it would be to have them do fast 4-2 on top of all these flagpole glitches, which would be literally almost impossible.
Soon though, while both Kosmic and Darbian were taking a break from mario bros 1 to run mario bros 2, mario All stars, and other games, sockfolder found something huge. He found a way to humanly realistically perform the 8-3 flagpole glitch in a run. Soon after, Kosmic tied darbians world record despite the fact that he lost a framerule on 8-2 due to bad luck, because he saved a framerule in 8-3. After Kosmic did this run, all of the mario runners realized the game had to go lower. And after a couple months of grinding, Darbian broke through, getting a 4:56.528, a full framerule faster than his old record.
Once again, any% hit a dead spot. Fast 4-2 was just too hard for anybody to even want to beat the world record. But soon somebody under the username xx_420_blazeit_xx (lmao) found a way to do fast 4-2 consistently by glitching through a wall. This became actually easier than a flagpole glitch. Darbian was still taking a break from smb1, so Kosmic went for 1-1 flagpole glitch, 4-1 flagpole glitch, and fast 4-2, and was able to get an extremely fast 8-4, getting the final time of 4:56.462, a time long thought by most to be literally impossible. It’s not perfect though, humans can save framerules over it in 8-3, 8-1, and 1-2 by doing extraordinarily difficult tricks that involve frame perfect fast accelerations, flagpole glitches with no setup, and clipping through a wall with an incredibly precise input, as well as saving a few frames in 8-4. The TAS time is a 4:54.03, and the Sum of all the best human gameplay is a 4:55.216, so while the record is obviously extremely solid, there is room for improvement, and people with the skill to beat it putting in the attempts.
L A R G E M O O D S
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